Sunday, May 22, 2005

When Insulation Replaces Reality

One of the most striking things about the Bible is its brutal honesty. It is filled with flawed people (Abraham, Samson, David, Peter, etc.), horrible suffering (nation of Israel, Paul, Jesus), and human tragedy (Saul, Adam, Cain, Israel's kings, etc.). Its honesty about life and the pains inherent in this world strengthen its credibility and validity. It is clear that it was written by people (and a Person) who understand the realities of this world. Consider the following verses:

John 16:33: In this world you will have trouble.
Rom 8:36: For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
Ps 119:143: Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands are my delight.
Psalm 34:19: A righteous man may have many troubles...

It also presents a God who is not distant from the hurting or immune to His creation's suffering.

Ps 34:18: The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
2 Cor 1:3-4: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles,
Isa 53:3: He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Heb 2:10-11: In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.

The Bible makes it clear that suffering and pain is real for those living in this world. It is honest about reality and does not sugarcoat human existence in this fallen and broken cosmos. It has been breathed out by God to help people understand pain, to prepare them for it, and to give them hope as they endure the trials of life.

However, I am afraid that much of western Christianity has failed to be as honest as the Bible always is. The most popular gospel tract in America starts with "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." While this may be true, I am afraid that the cross-carrying, self-denying discipleship Christ called us to is often left out. Christian pop music is filled with cheery songs, sung by pretty people. The books on how to be blessed by God in your career finances and emotional life fly off the shelves. Talk of the victorious Christian life leaves the struggling sinners feeling isolated and alone. The relentlessly celabratory style in most worship services often rings hollow for those sitting on the back pew with no friends and no hope.

I believe that our Christianity has been influenced by our culture. We live in a time and a place where the auto-pilot is always set to comfort, health, and security. Gated communities fill our towns, car alarms protect our cars which are designed to protect us in the case of an accident. They have a pill for "anything" that is ailing you, and doctors are sued regularly if they can't "fix it." Even when Americans get old and sick they are often put into "rest"homes where they are out of sight and out of mind. And we have moved our cemeteries out of the church yard, so we are no longer reminded every week that we will one day die. Television feeds us a world full of young, healthy, attractive people. And while it is true that the news pumps a steady stream of murder, war, and crime into our minds, we are assured by our President and mighty military that they will keep our borders safe.

We live in a society that tries to convince itself that it can escape pain, suffering, and heartache. It tries to deny the reality of this fallen world, and fortify itself from the inevitable. Our culture is doing everything it can to insulate itself from the realities of life, and I'm afraid that sometimes our Christianity falls right in line. But let me tell you, all the insulation in the world will not help you when you are thrust into the cold hard reality of agonizing suffering. At that time smiling motivational speakers, pill prescribing doctors, bright commercials, upbeat praise songs, and optimistic thinking will get you nowhere. A worldview that is built upon a false insulation of denial and false hope will fall apart when reality comes crashing in.

We must be careful not to follow the auto-pilot of our culture. We must remember the words of Jesus that we will have trouble, and the words of Paul that all those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will face persecution. Suffering is not abnormal for the Christian, it is to be expected. In order to be prepared for it we must saturate ourselves in the Scriptures. We must see how God's people have suffered, and build our lives on the promises of God.

Because the Bible is honest about reality it the best place to go when trials come (and before). It will remind us that others have suffered before us, it will remind us that we have a God who cares and who has suffered. But most of all it will remind us that suffering and sorrow will one day end. The grim realities of today's hurricane will soon be forgotten in the light of a beautiful sunrise. One day, God's Son will return, coming in the clouds with His mighty angels. The dead in Christ will be raised, His people will be gathered to Him, and we will live forever in a world without tears, sickness, or death. God will reward His people, and those who have persevered under trial "will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him" (James 1:12).
Choose to embrace the realities of Scripture rather than the insulation of the world. In the moment of trial you will be glad you did, trust me.


nate said...

Hey Mark,
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I was just thinking earlier tonight about how the world lulls into complacency, enticing us to adopt the mindset of our culture, to embrace temporary comforts rather than pursuing the edges and pushing the limits, giving all for the sake of the kingdom.
anyway man, its good to read your thoughts and these words were a great encouragement to me.
thanks man.

Mark said...

Thanks for the encouragin word Nate. It just happens so easy. I usually don't even notice I am thinking based on what the world says, rather than what God says. Gotta abide in the word.